St Albans Market trader sells last plant after decades on same pitch

PUBLISHED: 09:00 05 August 2016

Peter Cunnington on his stall

Peter Cunnington on his stall


A well-known plant seller whose roots in St Albans Market stretch back to the 1950s is about to sell his last piece of foliage in the city centre.

Peter Cunnington on his stallPeter Cunnington on his stall

Retirement beckons for Peter Cunnington, who has run his and his father’s stall outside Marks and Spencer for decades.

He said: “It will not be an easy move to stop serving the citizens of St Albans, the surrounding area and visitors from across the world after all these years.”

Peter’s late father, Jack, first took over the pitch outside M&S in 1955 - prior to that he had the adjacent stall, and that is where his son remembers helping as a “young lad”.

Now aged 70, he started working full-time with his father from school in about 1962, and became Jack’s business partner in 1972.

Peter Cunnington on his stallPeter Cunnington on his stall

Peter has been a near-permanent fixture at the market, where he has been selling hardy plants, shrubs, climbers and grown bulbs, with the majority of stock grown at the J Cunnington/Engelberg Nursery in Spalding, Lincolnshire.

He explained that in the 1970s, the nursery was situated in Verulam Road, in the grounds of the Diocesan House, now the Verulam House nursing home.

In 1978 “we had a big move, due to the St Albans site being developed, to a new site in Brookmans Park, where we rented part of another nursery,” Peter recalled.

The Spalding site, originally a run-down cut flower nursery, was bought in 1991.

Peter Cunnington on his stallPeter Cunnington on his stall

Peter said: “I continued the market on Wednesday and Saturday, travelling to St Albans twice a week - each a round trip of 190 miles. I finished the Wednesday market around 2010, after 35 years, and continued the Saturday market.”

He noted that “trade has not been bad over the years but the last four or five have seen a quite dramatic decline in footfall, especially early in the day.”

Peter joked: “Of course the rent has increased dramatically over the years. I can remember when it was the same price as a clematis, 10/6d - now the rent is £51 and the clematis are £3.50!”

He went on: “However, I am now retiring and will do some other things I’ve never had time for; plants are a bit like children, needing constant attention.

Peter Cunnington on his stall with daughter Simone CunningtonPeter Cunnington on his stall with daughter Simone Cunnington

“I intend to continue my Jukebox restoration business, maybe write my autobiography and I have quite a large garden to maintain.”

He praised has daughter Simone, who has helped him for many years, along with his younger son Jack. Of the latter Peter commented: “Both have been an asset and well liked by customers - Jack was well known for his massive hair. Over the years I have had some absolutely charming assistants on the stall, and am still in touch with most of them.

“I will regret and miss the good, and bad, times spent on the same spot in St Peter’s Street over the past 60 years.

I would like to thank all my past customers, many of whom have been loyal and regulars for many decades.”

Peter said that for those who wish to remain in contact with him upon his retirement, in early August, they can email him at: flw845@gmail or he can be found on Facebook.

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